The Safety of Our Food
Relative to: The Food Safety Bill and Growing Good Food
Eating foods that we know are safe and healthy should be among our highest societal values. It should be incumbent upon food producers to provide the safest product possible for consumers. But anyone who pays attention to food issues knows this is not the case. Rather, despite an upswell of interest in eating healthy food produced in a sustainable manner, the US continues to support an agricultural industry whose priorities are not even growing food, let alone growing safe food.
In this vein, the Senate passed the first overhaul of food safety regulations in 80(ish) years. The bill would hand more authority over to the Food and Drug Administration to recall food that is deemed unsafe, and puts further responsibility on food growers and processors to produce safe food products. Giving FDA the authority to recall foods (food recalls have been voluntary by growers and processors. Voluntary!) created strong opposition to the bill, but it was passed in the Senate with bipartisan support (73-25).
Of more interest to foodies and sustainable interests, and creating even more opposition to the bill, is Sen. Tester’s amendment.
The divide between corporate growers and family farmers stemmed from an amendment added by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), himself a farmer. Tester got an exception for small farmers — who sell directly to consumers at stands and farmers markets — from the legislation’s mandate that increases growers’ responsibility for contamination prevention.
I met Sen. Tester in his office in DC over the summer and have been impressed by his commitment to organic and small farm interests in Washington. Tester has been in organic farming for a long time in Montana, and is a valuable voice in the Senate on behalf of food producers who take routes other than corporate farming. Tester grows organically on a large scale, but advocates strongly for the smallest of producers, who might only sell at the farmer’s market or produce stands.
Exempting these small scale farmers, in my opinion, is an overall benefit for the organic, sustainable food producing community. But there are obvious dangers involved. If small scale farmers produce tainted or contaminated food, and FDA does not have equal authority, the small scale farmers could continue to fall even further behind corporate growers. Obviously, small-scale organic growers will have to be even more careful than the big guns.